We all make mistakes sometimes. Big, small, funny or embarrassing mistakes. Whenever you start learning a new skill, it’s bound to happen. That’s usually a good thing, because they are part of your learning process. But in scuba diving, even a seemingly innocent mistake can lead to a dangerous situation. Here are 5 mistakes I’ve made when scuba diving over the years: from when I was a new and inexperienced diver to when I was already working as an instructor. Learn from them, laugh at them, but whatever you do: don’t repeat them!
I skipped my pre dive safety check because everyone else did
In the Open Water Course, the pre dive safety check or buddy check is drilled into every new diver. But when the course is over, and there’s no instructor to force the buddy check down your throat, most divers tend to skip it before they jump in the water. Although I wrote about this before, I too have been guilty of it. Not because I was lazy or reckless, but because nobody else was doing it. As a new and law abiding Open Water Diver, it would never have occurred to me to skip the buddy check. But I seemed to always be the only one concerned with it, and I didn’t want the whole group to wait for me.
Once, there was even someone who made fun of me for wanting to do a buddy check. Today, I realize that this person was a total idiot. But back then, it just seemed so uncool to do it. Luckily, nothing serious ever happened, but it might as well have. And in any case, (not) doing something because other people are (not) doing it, is pretty damn stupid.
I didn’t speak up when I felt uncomfortable
One thing the dive industry is notorious for are its members who always seem to know and do everything better than you. I call it the never ending scuba pissing contest. Although you get used to it, this culture can be very intimidating to a new and insecure diver. I know it was for me when I first started out, and to be honest, it still is sometimes. There were countless situations where I was intimidated, bullied or ridiculed. I’d love to tell you about all of them, but maybe I’ll save that for another time. I’ll give you one example though:
Years ago I wanted to do a few dives when I was in Sri Lanka. I only had about 10 dives under my belt, and hadn’t dived in years, so I did a refresher course. It’s a pretty long and probably boring story so I won’t go into detail, but it turned out to be an awful experience. I felt uncomfortable, but was intimidated into doing something I didn’t want to do. It went horribly and dangerously wrong, and instead of taking responsibility the dive pro made me feel bad about it.
Even though I was inexperienced, it still didn’t feel right. When I talked to the dive shop manager about it, he scolded me because ‘I should have known how to handle that as a certified diver’. He may have had a point, weren’t it for the fact that this was a refresher course. But the reason why this moment stuck with me, was because he made me feel stupid and incompetent. He bullied me into believing this was all my own fault. I didn’t speak up and left that place feeling miserable and embarrassed. I think I even cried when I got to my hotel room.
Regardless of who was to blame, talking to an insecure diver (and paying customer) like that is not ok! Although this was an extreme situation, it is typical for the arrogant attitude that is not uncommon in the dive industry. Whenever you feel uncomfortable, you have the right to speak up. No one should make you feel like your feelings or fears aren’t valid. That is true in any situation, but especially in scuba diving where comfort level and safety go hand in hand!
I left my tank standing up unattended
One of the things you learn in the Open Water Course is to never leave your tank standing up unattended. If you need to leave it, put it down on the floor so it can’t fall over. It’s one of those things that probably makes you think ‘oh well, how bad can it really be?’ Well, I learned that the hard way.
When I started my divemaster training all my gear was brand new. I knew not to leave my kit standing up unattended, but surely a few seconds wouldn’t be much of an issue. Right? So I sprinted to the equipment room to grab some weights, and BANG. I turned around, and saw my tank and shiny new gear lying on the floor. The tank seemed to be fine, although it would need a visual inspection just to be sure. But the first stage of my regulator was badly damaged. The DIN screw was bent, and therefore did not fit the tank valve anymore. I had it fixed, but I kept having occasional problems with leaks for a long time. And my shiny new reg had a major dent in it. Whenever I look at it, it still hurts…
Even if your gear isn’t damaged after your tank falls down, there’s another reason why you want to avoid this at all times. When a tank falls over, the impact can badly damage it. This may not always be visible, but it can compromise the structural integrity of the tank.
I carried too much weight
One of my biggest worries in my early scuba days used to be if I’d be able to go down. There’s nothing that says ROOKIE more than a diver splashing around at the surface, while all his buddies are already halfway their descent. So to avoid that, I heavily overweighted myself. It worked: I always sank down like a rock before anyone else. It wasn’t great for my ears, and I repeatedly crash landed on some corals, but at least I got there. Besides the destruction of marine life, there are other reasons why this is ALL WRONG.
The first one is that you have to drag all the extra weight around your whole dive. The extra effort this takes will make you go through your air supply much faster than if you were properly weighted. But besides the extra work there’s also a safety concern: if there’s an emergency, the excessive weight will prevent you from getting back to the surface as quickly (and safely) as possible. Depending on how much you’re carrying, you may not make it at all…
As I became more confident as a diver I slowly but surely started to get rid of those unnecessary kilos on my weight belt. I was amazed by how much of a difference it made! I was less tired and my air consumption and trim improved dramatically. As soon as I ditched the excess weight, my dive skills improved almost immediately.
Before you ditch all your weights: not carrying enough can be equally hazardous! You want to carry enough weight to help you stay down at the end of your dive, with an almost empty tank.
I didn’t bring a back up light on my night dive
Anything with a battery can stop working at some point. That includes dive torches. Which is why you always bring a back up light on your night dive, because the ocean is a pretty dark place at night. At least, that’s what I tell my students. As much as I believed in the necessity of having a redundant light source, for some reason I didn’t seem to think this applied to me as well. I always provide my students with two torches, but used to bring only one myself. After all, my torch had never failed me. Until it did.
That was during a night dive as part of the Advanced Open Water Course, so I had to ask my student for his back up light. Super embarrassing. But it got even more embarrassing when his primary light failed as well! Obviously I returned his back up to him, and we ended the dive. On a positive note, he will forever remember the importance of carrying a back up light. But this was clearly a total fuck up from my side. Luckily for me, he was very chill about it, and the next day we did another night dive with lots of back up lights.
Alright, that’s enough embarrassing confessions for now. But I know I’m not the only one! So now it’s your turn: what are the biggest or most embarrassing scuba diving mistakes you ever made?